Mar. 30, 2017

FIFTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C.

GO AND DO LIKEWISE: THE PRIMACY OF LOVE 

Four basic questions feature in the gospel of today- two from the lawyer to Jesus, two from Jesus back to the lawyer. These are:

  • What must I do to inherit eternal life? (Lawyer)
  • What is written in the law? (Jesus)
  • And who is my neighbor? (Lawyer)
  • Which of these three in your opinion, was neighbor to the robber's victim? (Jesus)

Each of these questions points to the basic demand of a larger Christian faith. While the lawyer initiates the conversation with his questions, Jesus deepens his knowledge and challenges him  to action. The lawyer's initial intention was to test Jesus. He wanted to let him know that he's on top of his legal profession. He wanted to evaluate Jesus. Meanwhile, the dialogue ended with Jesus taking him beyond mere rhetoric. 

When the legal expert asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?", Jesus took him back to the Mosaic law to bridge the gap between the Old Testament and the journey to salvation. "What is written in the law?", Jesus asks him. The lawyer had no difficulty quoting scripture passages of Old Testament to prove his competence. The  Mosaic law was at his fingertips, so he recited the books of Leviticus (19:18), Deuteronomy (6:5) and Joshua (22:5). But for Jesus, one thing is to know the law off the top of your head, the other is to do what the law commands. Hence Jesus invited him to the real standard for eternal life- keep the commandments- love God with all your heart, being, strength, mind and body; then love your neighbor as yourself. 

The Jewish lawyer was beginning to enjoy the polemics. As a lawyer, he developed his syllogism. He shaped his argument to proceed from inference to logical conclusion. Scripture said he wanted to justify himself. He was caught up in his self-justification shell that he forgot the realities of divine logic. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Through him all things were created whether in heaven or on earth. The intelligent lawyer didn't realize that. Then came his theological question, "And who is my neighbor?" I'm not sure that the lawyer would like where this argument would take him. He has opened an uncomfortable topic, a subject that would expose the bitter cultural and religious history between Jews and Samaritans. As Jew, he wouldn't believe that his neighbor would be Samaritan. 

In addressing the lawyer's question, Jesus referred back to Moses' approach in explaining the commandments to the Israelites in the first reading. Moses said to the people, "For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky..., nor is it across the sea... No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out" (Deut.30:11-14). Jesus stepped the lawyer's argument down from speculation to reality, from theory to praxis. The law of eternal life is related to the law of love which is summarized in mercy. Jesus cast the Samaritan as hero in creating the picture of "my neighbor" for the lawyer. The action of the Samaritan in taking care of the Jew set the primacy of love. The Samaritan broke historical and cultural barriers of enmity, race and tradition to establish and promote the dignity of human life above all other interests. 

Jesus brought out two other important figures in the story: The priest who saw the victim, looked away, and the Levite who saw him then passed by the opposite side. Jesus intentionally used these two religious figures because both the priest and the Levite assisted in the temple. They were supposed to stay away from blood in order to avoid ritual impurity. And that was what they did. Jesus contrasted the demands of religious legalism with the law of love. Such legalism contaminated religion. It messed the priest and the Levite up. It blindfolded them. Both deviated from an immediate act of love that was necessary for eternal life. 

The Samaritan won the glorious award. Take a look at his actions: (1) He was moved with compassion. (2) He approached the victim. (3) He poured oil and wine over the wounds. (4) He bandaged them. (5) He lifted him up on his own animal. (6) He took him to an inn. (7) He cared for him. (8) He took out his silver coins. (9) He gave them to the innkeeper. (10) He instructed the innkeeper to take care of him. (11) He promised to return on his way back. (12) He made a commitment, "I shall repay you on my way back". The Samaritan took twelve steps of mercy to show love to the stranger, an apparent enemy. At this point, Jesus asked to know how the lawyer was feeling, "Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers' victim?" Jesus' use of the phrase, "in your opinion" was a conscious attempt to make sure his lawyer understood the big picture in the story. Hence the answer, "The one who treated him with mercy". Did you ask about eternal life?, Jesus would be asking his lawyer. Did you really wish to know who your neighbor is? Then he said to the lawyer, "You must go and do likewise". 

"Go and do likewise", means go and discover your neighbor. Let's think of our society today and think of how we approach those in need. In fact, the story of the Good Samaritan is appropriate within the context of recent killings in the United States. Think of the police shooting and killings in Louisiana and Minnesota which sparked off the initial protests. Think of the killing of the police officers by the young man who claimed he was responding to police shooting and killing of blacks. Think of the level of divisiveness in the U.S. now and the political theatrics. Life has almost been reduced to the level of political arguments. If you don't belong to my political party, you don't count, your view doesn't matter. If you're not in my party, your life is worthless. If you're not my color, your life is inferior. If you're not in my financial or economic camp, you're of less value. Is my neighbor  the person with whom I share some social, economic and political interests only? Is the stranger my neighbor? Do I say, I have nothing to do with that guy because he is white or black? He is not like me. He doesn't belong. This is what today's society has turned into. That's why it has become too easy to kill, to snuff life out of another. 

Ordinarily, the Samaritan in the gospel would have helped the Jew who was a victim on the road to die. He would have given him the last shot since they were enemies and had overt ideological differences. He would have killed him since there was no one watching, I'm not sure there were cameras by then to capture him or to send it online. He didn't kill him. He showed him mercy. 

We need to examine once again, our attitudes towards others. We need to get back into our heads and ask ourselves whether we treat others as neighbors. As Christians, do we see those of different color, race or gender as problems on sighting them? Do we see strangers as problems in our environment who have to be removed or eliminated? Do we see colleagues at work as neighbors? Do we form judgements in our heads about others because of their ethnic and religious background? Christ gives us the example of the Samaritan, and says, "Go and do likewise". Let's go and take those twelve steps of mercy taken by the Samaritan: Show compassion. Approach, move up to him. Pour oil of love. Discover wounds, his hurts, bandage them. Lift him up with good words. Shelter him. Care for him. Share his pains with him. Feel with him. Look out for him. Be generous with your care. Make commitments of love. Those are the necessary steps we have to take as we go home today. Discover the image of God in your fellow human being. Don't see problem, don't see burden. See your neighbor.